For the Blue Jays, the schedule remains daunting - no easy opponents until late June
By Charles Kime
For a team with an offense that cannot seem to cash in runners in scoring position - and a bullpen that has sprung some leaks of late - the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans are surely hoping a road trip is just the elixir to break them out of their slump. After a tough 4-6 home stand, the Jays head to Florida for a four game tilt with the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
After that, it’s off to the Twin Cities for three against the AL Central-leading Minnesota Twins, and then three at home against the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers. June also includes games against tough opponents in the NY Mets, Houston Astros, Twins, Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers.
No Easy Opponents Until Late June
In fact, they won’t face a team with a losing record until June 23rd when they host the Oakland A’s for a three game set. That’s daunting for a team with the only losing record (5-12) in head-to-head games against AL East opponents this year. With the return to a balanced schedule, teams only play their division rivals 13 times in 2023, or two less series than last year when they had 19 games head-to-head. That means head-to-head division games are worth more in the standings compared to last season.
Ahead of the July 11th All-Star Game in Seattle, the Jays will only play nine games against teams that currently have a losing record through games played Sunday. Will they have to go 9-0 against Oakland, the Chicago White Sox and Detroit in those games to stay close enough to be a buyer at the August 1st trade deadline?
With their final 15 games of the season against AL East rivals Boston, New York and Tampa Bay, the Blue Jays will need to build up a margin of error in the 27 games they have remaining against the weakest teams in MLB - the A’s, Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Colorado Rockies, Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins. A .700+ record in those games equates to 19 wins, and that’s potentially what it might take to ensure postseason baseball this fall.
FanGraphs puts the Jays odds of making the playoffs at 54.6%. But according to website Tankathon, the Blue Jays also face the toughest remaining strength of schedule in MLB, with an opponents’ winning percentage currently at .521.
To win 90 games - which would likely equate to a wild card slot - the Jays need a .565 winning percentage in their remaining 115 games. That’s easily possible if they can continue with their run of remarkable good health, get pitchers Adam Cimber, Zach Pop, Hyun Jin Ryu and Chad Green back, and start hitting much better with runners on base.
Their 443 at-bats with runners in scoring position (RISP) leads MLB overall, which is good. However, they aren’t cashing in those runners, leaving a league high 4+ runners in scoring position on base per game. Jays hitters only have 104 hits and 52 walks against 122 strikeouts in those ABs. That equates to a miserable .235/.319/.377/.696 slash line with RISP, which ranks them 24th in MLB. It’s been even worse in May: in the most recent 10 game home stand, they hit .198 and had an OPS of .530 with RISP.
The bullpen pitching will also have to improve after a horrible May so far. They have a 4.60 ERA and 4.96 FIP this month per FanGraphs, ranking 27th on fWAR at -0.4 (below replacement value) with 5 blown saves.
So with a daunting schedule ahead, there are no easy days for this scuffling Blue Jays team. As manager John Schneider noted after Sunday’s loss, “We just need to get hits when we need to. We have tons of chances and we’re just not really coming through with the double plays from George [Springer] and [Kevin] Kiermaier today. It’s kind of at the point where enough is enough. You’re waiting for it to turn, and it will… in order to get there, the guys are going to have to continue to work their asses off.” So back to work Blue Jays, enough is enough.